United States: Elizabeth Warren pushes for a universal child care policy in her presidential candidacy program

United States: Elizabeth Warren pushes for a universal child care policy in her presidential candidacy program

Elizabeth Warren. Picture credit to: Vox


Childcare in America is amongst the highest in the world. For typical middle-class families (two working parents with two children), it sits at just about 30% of the family’s earnings, according to an OECD study which places it as the 5th more expensive in the world. For low-income single parents the result is even more severe, with childcare cost representing about 32% of the earnings, and pushing the USA to the second most expensive country in the world (only supplanted by Ireland). That seems to be related with the lack of state support for childcare (as opposed to that of the UK, for instance, where this last population bracket may get refunded for up to 85% of their childcare costs), joined with staggering rises in prices for these services, which have risen 1000 % in 30 years.


Despite this grim scenario for working parents, especially those on low incomes in the USA, childcare has not often been on the political agenda. Republican dominated governments have always been contrary to large federal spending programs, and Democrats initiatives along the years (e.g.: Obama, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton) have gotten little attention, both from media and voters. However, the issue is regaining traction among Democratic leaders, and Elizabeth Warren’s initiative to go for universal child care (UCC), as part of her presidential candidacy agenda for 2020, is getting some media attention.


The policy is set to guarantee that no family gets to spend more than 7% (official Department of Health and Human Services figure for what is considered “affordable”) of their income on childcare. If implemented, the policy will also exempt families earning less than twice the poverty line from paying any related childcare cost. Of course, this represents a large increase in governmental spending, estimated in 700 billion $ in 10 years, and Warren proposes to tax it from the super-rich. This new tax represents a 2% levy on fortunes worth at least 50 million $, and a 3% on those surpassing 1 billion $. According to economic consultants (Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, former Thomas Piketty collaborators) working with Warren, this new tax could generate 2,75 trillion $ in the same 10-year period.


The universality of the proposed policy is an important feature of it, even though it is tied to childcare alone. On the other hand, and unlike a basic income type of policy, it is given as a subsidy for children care centres, as a cap on costs at 7% would be installed for parents. So, all parents (and their children) would potentially benefit from it, depending on the percentage that their childcare costs represent on their total income. In other words, Warren’s idea is not to boost citizen’s earnings, and create a secure financial floor under which they cannot go – as a basic income would do – but to universally reduce childcare costs for all families, capping those costs as a percentage of their earnings.



More information at:

Reality Check Team, “Childcare: Do UK parents pay the most in the world?”, BBC News, February 13th 2018

Sarah Kliff, “Elizabeth Warren’s universal child care plan, explained”, Vox, February 22nd 2019

Matthew Yglesias, “Elizabeth Warren’s proposed tax on enormous fortunes, explained”, Vox, February 24th, 2019

Mark Zandi and Sophia Koropeckyj, “Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act: Helping Families and the Economy”, Moody’s Analytics, February 2019

United States: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gets to the point of what it means to be “unwilling to work”

United States: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gets to the point of what it means to be “unwilling to work”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Picture credit to: The Cut.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) tabled a Resolution on the United States House of Representatives (H.RES.109) which hinted, in a first version, that “the Green New Deal would take care of people who are “unwilling to work””. That last bit of the sentence started a political hurricane in the United States. In that country, work is seen as tightly linked to jobs, and jobs are conceived as essential to value, and so “unwilling to work” is simply understood as “lazy”. Period. So, taking care of the lazy just sounds nonsensical to most Americans.

Because most people and politicians in the United States equate “unwilling” with “lazy”, it’s very difficult to pass on the message that “unwilling” might actually mean unwilling to perform a certain job/task that can be revolting, disgusting, unfair, tedious, repetitive and/or badly paid. Rigid work ethics and years of living in an economic crisis has also helped to lower people’s expectations, and be more open to exploitation. What is at dispute, at bottom, is the nature of work.

On the aftermath of those three words having been read on an official document, AOC was showered by a rain of criticism, particularly from Republicans, while being left isolated by colleague Democrats. Everybody fled, including AOC and her assessors. In an attempt to clear the record, AOC team tried to link it to the GOP, then alleged the release was a draft version. On the “final” version of the 109’th Resolution, cited above, indeed no reference is made to “unwilling to work”, or “unwilling” anywhere. Also, the reference to “basic income programs”, which was a part of a draft text for the Green New Deal that had already hit the news (for more positive reasons) was eliminated. So now, the creation of a Green New Deal, as proposed by AOC and some of her team and fellow Democrats, is completely devoid of references to basic income and unconditionality, while referring only to “universal access to clean water” and “universal access to healthy food”. And, on the H) paragraph of the 4th chapter, one can read the more fundamental and still core Democrats value as far as work is concerned: “guaranteeing a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people of the United States”. What remains to be seen is how AOC and other supportive Democrats envision achieving these universal rights – e.g.: access to clean water, healthy food and a decent income – without actually implementing a basic income in the country.

Basic income supporters / activists say, however, that the unwillingness to work is one of the reasons basic income should exist. American philosophy professor and author Karl Widerquist says it eloquently: “This idea that somehow people who are unwilling to work are bad or lazy is a horrible idea. Because whenever there’s a job offer and somebody doesn’t want it, what you have is a dispute about wages and working conditions”. Andrew Yang, the American presidential candidate who is running his campaign on the basic income concept, said that, in fact, the language (“unwilling to work”) “is unfortunate. It does make it easier to try and portrait [UBI] as extreme”. Widerquist added that “It’s really horrific to use the threat of poverty and homelessness as a work incentive”, qualifying that as “monstrous”. However, it seems, the monstrosity hasn’t been enough to break the bond most Americans hold dear, between wealth and work.

Senator Chris Murphy, on this issue, has stated that, although he thinks basic income is not sellable to the American public right now, the discussion about it should start today, because, to him, it will become a necessity in “decades” from now. In other countries, though, far away from the US geographically, economically and culturally, such as India, not only that debate has been going on for decades, but recent developments indicate that implementation of a basic income type of policy is on the verge of becoming a reality.

More information at:

André Coelho, “United States: Democrats add basic income to a climate change addressing plan”, Basic Income News, December 9th 2018

Paul McLeod, “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Got Dragged For Suggesting People Who Are “Unwilling To Work” Should Get Paid. Advocates Say That’s The Point”, BuzzFeed News, February 15th 2019

Book Snapshot: Undoing Work, Rethinking Community

Book Snapshot: Undoing Work, Rethinking Community

Dr. James Chamberlain, of Mississippi State University’s Department of Political Science and Public Administration, published Undoing Work, Rethinking Community in February 2018. This new work examines the contemporary overvaluation of work, highlighting political rhetoric that puts employment at the centre of society without addressing the socio-economic factors that limit access to employment and a living wage. Its underlying argument mirrors its title, that community must be separated from the idea of paid labour as inequity grows. Chamberlain’s book includes a chapter on basic income (UBI), emphasizing that while UBI is an important part of social restructuring, it must be paired with conscious attention to deconstructing the importance of paid work.

The book was listed as an exciting contribution to the literature on unpaid work and basic income by JoAnne Swanson of The Anticareerist. It has also gathered several reviews. Hull University’s Patrick Reedy comments that “Chamberlain’s book provides a useful resource for questioning our own assumptions regarding the close coupling of work and organization and the centrality of work to our understanding of citizenship and community.”

Blogger and author John Budd comments further on the connections between Undoing Work and UBI, noting that “A popular proposal these days is for a universal basic income, the (simplified) theory being that reducing people’s dependency on work for subsistence will allow them to choose from a broader set of life activities. An interesting contribution of Undoing Work is showing how the thinking that lies behind many of the proposals for universal basic income do not break with traditional views of work and society to the extent needed to really bring about a large-scale change in the centrality of work.”


For more information:

John Budd, “Undoing Work, or Doing it up? How Central Should Work Be to Society?” Whither Work? Blog, June 13th 2018

Patrick Reedy, “Book Review: Undoing Work, Rethinking Community” Organization Studies,, August 6th 2018

“Interview: James Chamberlain on “Undoing Work, Rethinking Community” – Epistemic Unruliness 23”, Always Already Podcast, July 9th 2018 (Podcast)

Kate McFarland, “Interview: UBI and ‘Job Culture’”, Basic Income News, April 30th 2018

Annie Lowrey: New book “Give People Money: How a Universal Basic Income Would End Poverty, Revolutionize Work, and Remake the World”

Annie Lowrey: New book “Give People Money: How a Universal Basic Income Would End Poverty, Revolutionize Work, and Remake the World”

In her recent work Give People Money: How a Universal Basic Income Would End Poverty, Revolutionize Work, and Remake the World (W.H. Allen), Atlantic writer Annie Lowrey offers a new account of the universal basic income (UBI) rooted in her experience as a global observer of geopolitics, economics, and social policy.

Lowrey approaches UBI as a potential tool to redress a variety of issues, including inequality, poverty, and technological unemployment, which have become increasingly divisive in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and the recent boom in AI research.  By viewing human action rather than impartial circumstance as the primary driver of socio-political change, Lowrey concludes that UBI represents an “ethos” of universality, unconditionality, and inclusion as much as any concrete policy proposal.

In the opening chapter, Lowrey explores the relationship between basic income, work, and technological unemployment. After sketching the twinned histories of human advancement and the fear of technological unemployment, she examines why current innovations in AI might be qualitatively different from earlier achievements and why these differences may in fact lead to widespread joblessness.  Lowrey notes that certain Silicon Valley luminaries, whose own endeavours threaten the livelihood of many low-skilled workers, have promoted the UBI as a necessary social policy for a jobless future.

Despite calls by technologists for a UBI as a “social vaccine for the 21st Century,” Lowrey ultimately considers discussion of basic income in relation to future joblessness as premature. Although she grants that basic income could operate as an important vehicle of state provision in the future, Lowrey prefers to consider the UBI’s potential to address current social and economic problems.

These problems range from a labour market with stagnant wage growth in Houston to chronic poverty on the shores of Lake Victoria to the challenges of welfare reform in rural India. In each case, Lowrey unpacks how political choices, bureaucratic structures, and personal circumstance converge to prevent certain people from meeting their basic needs.

Through carefully examining different political, geographic, and economic contexts, Lowrey can assess the benefits and drawbacks of basic income proposals in a variety of contemporary settings. This approach accepts that any form of UBI would affect different communities and individuals in unique and perhaps unpredictable ways.

Give People Money distinguishes itself from other works on the topic through its commitment to personal narrative and Lowrey’s own experience with the people who stand to benefit from basic income proposals. Although she examines the ethical and economic justifications of UBI, her primary focus lies in the human story and the way she came to view UBI as an ethos of transformative social change. Give People Money ultimately advocates for UBI not by advancing specific policy initiatives, but by presenting basic income as an impetus to radically reconsider what humans owe one another and how the earth’s bounty ought to be shared.

Leonid Bershidsky: “Obama and Bezos could make basic income work”

Leonid Bershidsky: “Obama and Bezos could make basic income work”

Jeff Bezos. Picture credit to: Evening Standard

Leonid Bershidsky, in this article, posted on the 18th of July, says that the best way to enact basic income is to “persuade tech billionaires to fund universal pay plans”. Motivated by Obama’s latest speech on Mandela’s (posthumous) 100th birthday, he suggests Obama should try have their attention – and money – to finance a basic income. Bershidsky is also convinced that a basic income cannot be financed through more taxes on the wealthy, which would only, according to him, “have a negative effect on growth and innovation”. There are those, however, who object this purpose of growth for its own sake, and propose other directions for society, such as degrowth.

Bershidsky affirms that others may be able to fund a basic income, such as Norway, but that is inconceivable in the United States. In the simplest of ways, he determines the cost of basic income as 327 million people times 500 US$/month, which equals around 2 trillion US$ per year. This kind of reasoning has been done many times before, but it lacks mathematical sense, as Scott Santens has already pointed out. Santens, on a more generous assumption for a basic income in the US, has suggested a gross cost of 3,3 trillion US$ per year. However, and most importantly, that is gross cost, not net cost. Net costs, according to him, can be zero, or even negative, if several reforms occur in welfare and the tax system, such as the elimination of welfare programs (turned obsolete due to their own means-tested nature), the abolition of invisible welfare benefits (those which benefit high earners), reforms in social security (turning pensions and disability benefits into supplements, as basic income is phased in), application of a carbon tax, a financial transaction tax, implementation of seigniorage reform, introduction of VAT (value-added tax) and LVT (land-value tax). To this could be added all the savings possible with the reduction or abolition of poverty, in health care, education and social security.


More information at:

Leonid Bershidsky, “Obama and Bezos Could Make Basic Income Work”, Bloomberg Opinion, July 18th 2018

Scott Santens, “How to Reform Welfare and Taxes to Provide Every American Citizen with a Basic Income”, Medium, June 5th 2017